City considers placing non-sworn officers

The idea is to free highly trained police officers from deskwork and move them out into onto the streets, he said.,”Milwaukee could save money by replacing sworn officers with civilian police staffers in the Milwaukee Police Department, said Alderman Terry Witkowski who represents District 13 on the south side.

The idea is to free highly trained police officers from deskwork and move them out into onto the streets, he said. Witkowski said the plan would also free up money in the budget.

"We have an obligation to watch what's being spent," Witkowski said.

Next week, the Milwaukee Common Council plans to make an amendment to the budget that will allow 35 civilian officers to take over booking duties and 45 sworn officers to patrol the street, he said.

Before any final decisions are made, members of the Milwaukee Police Association will need to look at the legality of the issue, said John Balcerzak, president of the association.

Officials will have to examine what responsibilities non-sworn officers will legally be able to assume, he said.

Currently, the abilities of non-sworn officers are very limited, Balcerzak said. Non-sworn officers cannot issue tickets, file an accident report, write arrest reports, search a prisoner or do any sort of booking, he said.

If the matter is deemed legal, Balcerzak said he suggests non-sworn officers work in a booking setting and not out on the street. More officers on the street without guns would be very dangerous, he said.

"There's no such thing as a mundane, routine call," Balcerzak said.

Civilian officers would be paid less than sworn officers, Witkowski said. The civilian officers would undergo a 15-week training period sometime in November, Witkowski said.

The next step will be to determine the legality of the idea, Balcerzak said. Police and city officials would have to determine how to implement the change, he said.

"If they cannot do it legally we're going to put a stop to it," Balcerzak said.

The Milwaukee County Sheriff's Office already employs 75 civilians as correctional officers, said Roy Felber, president of the Milwaukee Deputy Sheriff Association.

The correctional officers go through a four-week training session instead of the 19- to 26-week training sworn officers complete, Felber said.

Felber said problems have occurred with civilian correctional officers but he could not comment on the nature of problems.

Felber said he thinks the civilian officers could work behind a desk doing background investigations, but he does not agree with putting civilians in a booking room or jail setting that involves a criminal element.

Non-sworn officers would still deal with dangerous people, Felber said.

"Just because they're civilians doesn't take away the liability," he said.

Paying civilian staffers less than sworn officers does save money, Felber said. Payroll makes up 60 to 70 percent of the police budget, he said.

"But when it comes to public safety, it's an area where you want to have police officers," Felber said.

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